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Robin Middleburgh - Medicine in Ghana

Outside football stadium I left school in July 2007 without a place at university, I didn’t plan on having a gap year but wasn’t able to get a place at medical school. As I start university this week I can comfortably say that my gap year was the best thing I’ve ever did.

I was desperate to do some volunteer work to make up a major part of my gap year experiences and was recommended Projects Abroad by a friend. He also went to Ghana and as we talked over his time there I thought it would be a great idea. I was really attracted to the friendliness of the country and that English was the spoken language there as well as the fact that my help would be better received in Africa . The planning for my trip was really easy, I chose a date and decided that a medical placement would be best for me as I would get more experience working in a medical environment and it seemed to be very interesting.

Before football game

Soon I had booked my flights and details of my placement and host family were sent to me. Before I knew it, I was in Heathrow airport and boarding the flight to start my ’adventure’. I was so nervous during the flight, I wasn’t sure if I would be OK spending 4 months away from home in a country I’d never visited. I planned on spending 3 months in my placement before taking a month’s travel time. In a flash I landed in Accra, and after a couple of hours sleep and a long bus journey I arrived in Kumasi, the town in which I would spend a majority of my time in Africa. It was so hot when I arrived, but this was expected. I was given my induction to the town with Gabby, one of the Projects Abroad regional coordinators. There was a lot to take in, where to go, how to make journeys and everything. I thought I would really struggle.

I spent the first weekend with my family and began to settle in, on the Monday I started my placement in the hospital and with Helena, the placement coordinator I discussed a rotation round the hospital. My first week was going to be spent in surgery…

The theatre where the operations were done was very different to anything I had seen in England. The instruments weren’t dirty but I certainly wouldn’t want to be operated on with them. I only saw caesareans there but they were very interesting and the staff were very welcoming to me. I found during that week that the Ghanaian attitudes to pain were completely different to those we have in the UK, but this was just one of a number of things that I would have to adapt to.

With volunteers and crocodile

One of the highlights of my time in Ghana was my host family. I was a bit nervous about staying with a family during my time in Kumasi but I was always made to feel welcome and was always very well fed. The house was fine and very basic, as expected though I struggled to get used to sleeping under a mosquito net. I played a lot of football after returning home everyday with my host brother Shawn who was 8, and also helped him with homework etc. My host mum gave birth the first week I was there so it was very nice to have a newborn host brother. Sammy, my host dad was always kind and I was always made to feel part of the family. This really helped me during my time there.

Another highlight was the trips at the weekend and spending time with other volunteers. I found it easy to get on with the others, especially as you all are in the same boat. Almost without exception every weekend I went on trips with other volunteers- my favourite was a trip to the north of the country with 3 others. We went on a safari, visited a slave camp, sat on a crocodile, were shown around a chief’s palace and also tried to get to a witch camp. It was the most memorable weekend of my time in Ghana.

With other volunteers on trip

One of the most unforgettable things about Ghana is the transport system, if you aren’t in a very unsteady taxi you would be travelling in an even more precarious tro. These are minibuses with no real passenger limit or comfort, but they are great fun.

Another weekend that I will remember for years to come was the weekend we went to a football match in Kumasi. Around 10 volunteers and 3 host brothers went to the game between Kumasi Asante Kotoko and Wiki Tourists (of Nigeria). The standard of football wasn’t great but the colours and sounds around the stadium were amazing. It was Shawn’s first football match and he really enjoyed it, it was a pleasure taking him there and seeing him enjoy himself.

As my rotation around the hospital finished around a month earlier than planned, I spent a month working in the orphanage. I really loved volunteering there, with the babies and toddlers we washed, changed, fed and most importantly played with the kids every day. I really felt I was helping the day to day lives of the children as well as enjoying myself at the same time.

Playing with the kids

Three months after returning from Ghana I’m still in contact with a lot of volunteers I met there from all over the world. I feel the experience really helped change my perspective of the world as well as being really enjoyable. I loved the country and would like to go back there after medical school to help in a more professional way.

Robin Middleburgh

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